Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Review of HELL OR HIGH WATER: Bandit Brothers

February 2017

Of all the nominees for Best Picture at the 89th Academy Awards, I would say that David Mackenzie's crime heist drama "Hell or High Water" is the most unlikely one. It is very laid back, not a typical Oscar bait film. But when the nominations were announced, here it is now competing for Best Picture. It is also up for three more Oscars:  Best Supporting Actor (Jeff Bridges), Best Original Screenplay (Taylor Sheridan) and Best Film Editing.

Serious and pensive Toby Howard and his reckless ex-con brother Tanner launch into a spree of bank robberies, mainly branches of the Texas Midlands Bank. They launder the money at a casino outside the state in order to get a check to be used in paying off the bank mortgage of their family ranch. Meanwhile, senior Texas Ranger Marcus Hamilton is hot on their trail, hoping to catch them before his retirement.

Chris Pine played Toby, the sensible brother who wished to protect the future of his two sons. Ben Foster played crazy older brother Tanner who simply had a death wish. I have to say the casting is predictable. While Pine is known for playing heroes ("Star Trek" or "The Finest Hours") in his previous films, Foster is already known for playing crazies ("The Program" or "Inferno"). The whole film would have been more interesting if these two actors were cast against type where each played the other brother.

This is already Oscar nomination #7 for veteran actor Jeff Bridges.  Three were for Best Actor and four were for Best Supporting Actor. He already won a Best Actor Oscar for "Crazy Heart" (2009), with noms for "Starman" (1984) and the remake of "True Grit" (2010). His first nomination for Best Supporting Actor came with his first major film role in "The Last Picture Show" (1971), followed by similar nods for "Thunderbolt and Lightfoot" (1974), "The Contender" (2000), and now this one for "Hell and High Water." I liked his performance and I want him to win, but admittedly I think he could already do this familiar role blindfolded.

Writer Taylor Sheridan first earned awards notice with his excellent script for "Sicario" (2015). Sheridan's script for "Hell" is very cleverly plotted with a lot of interesting details given for each of the main characters. Overall, the film is really very well done, but I think though it is best watched without knowing that it is an Oscar Best Picture nominee. If you watch it with preset expectations, it may underwhelm you. I am surmising that it was so honored by Oscar is because its plot is like a modern-day throwback to Westerns of old, and I guess the Academy likes their Westerns represented among the best of the year. 7/10. 

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